Major General Asif Ghafoor, the head of the army’s media wing, in an hour-long media briefing on Monday touched upon a number of important issues. He spoke about Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan and Iran, along with a plan for bringing 30,000 madrassahs into the mainstream and raised questions about the funding received by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.
Following the briefing, a number of journalists asked him questions about the Pakistan Army’s plan of action. Many journalists thanked the ISPR DG for endorsing the view of the media and democratic forces that Pakistan would’ve never been divided if media was free in 1971.
Below are the questions he was asked and his response to it.
Q1) Don’t you think that the PTM should be allowed on electronic media and asked the questions you raised in today’s press conference. They accuse the DG ISPR and Pakistan Army of restricting coverage of their rallies and demands. You said that the PTM protest which was held in Islamabad in 2018 was funded by RAW. The protest was attended by me (journalist Hamid Mir) and PM Imran Khan. Manzoor Pashteen had called us to it. We demanded the arrest of Naqeebullah Mehsud murderers.
We care about missing people too. There is a lot to do when we are fighting a war. They say that everything is fair in love and war. Wars are very ruthless. It is the duty of the security agencies to protect the country. The missing people issue is not only what the PTM say it is. I told them to provide us with a list of TTP operatives too. We need to ensure that the names on the two lists are not the same. When people attended the PTM’s rally, they didn’t know about the funding. PM Khan has always said that there is nothing wrong with their demands. Many people didn’t know about the questions that I have asked [the PTM]. Have you seen the type of language they use? They chant slogans on social media. Will any responsible person ever say such a thing about its army? If we enforce the Constitution, then the people will say that they are being forced. I speak to all anchors and the heads of news channels. Media has played an important role [in the society] but it can be improved. I tell them that they speak on television throughout the week. I have asked them to give me one day. I will suggest the topic, you just bring the experts. They can discuss issues such as judicial, education and police reforms. Talk about the merged districts. Such discussions never occur on the television. Media is the most powerful pillar of the state today. Everyone knows the problems, tell us the solution. In such an environment everyone can say what they want. From a rickshaw driver to politicians and bureaucrats, everyone says what they want. Army chief can’t say what he wants. You don’t know the type of restrictions on me too. I don’t have the liberty to say whatever I want. If the media told us what was happening in 1971, then it could’ve benefited us. This is another chance for you. Please be our eyes and ears and guide us based on your analyses and discussions. We know when there is a fight and when there are tensions. The questions meant for the PTM will be asked in a legal manner. You can call them once they have been exposed. Will you ever call someone who says ‘yeh jo dehsatgardi hai isske peeche wardi hai‘ to your shows? [Uniform is behind this terrorism].
Q2) You said that the Nowshera HQ was attacked and you asked India who was the mastermind behind it. Is it correct that the Indian Army chief was present there too?
You will have to ask an Indian journalist that.
Q3) A senate committee was formed for engagement with the PTM leaders. Does your statement today mean that the government’s engagement will stop now? Some people have said that the steps taken by the state have led to such a reaction by the PTM. Rao Anwar is still roaming free. We don’t know what happened to SP Dawar. A committee was formed for its investigation but nothing was ever revealed.
Let me just clarify, this is not a war declaration. We have just asked them a few questions. I was the first one to engage with them and that wasn’t the only time I engaged with them. The government, army, and committees want to engage with them. But, they are travelling to Germany, the US and Balochistan. They should sit in their constituency and then the government and the army will come to them. Instead, they are roaming around elsewhere. People of their constituency say that they have never seen their leaders. Did you ask them that they started from three demands, where did Rao Anwar’s demand come from? One political party has been supporting them. It says that the PTM is right and Rao Anwar is a member of that party. Things are not always what they seem. What you see depends on where you are seeing it. The KP government comprises 60% Pathans. Who else will take care of them if not their own people? Do you think that Indian PM Narendra Modi will take care of them? Law and constitution should be respected by everyoe. It is not only for the army.
Q4) I have a question about the law and order situation in the country. You spoke about terrorism and Daesh’s name in has sprung up in our region. They claimed the attacks in Sri Lanka, it was said that they operate in Pakistan too, even Zalmay Khalilzad said that Daesh is operating in the area. What do you have to say about this?
I said that no terrorist organistaion has its organized infrastructure in Pakistan. However, it would be wrong to say that there are not terrorists in the country. We have to work a lot. They had their training camps and sanctuaries on the Pak-Afghan border and they been destroyed now. There are 2.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, even if 1% of them are abettors or facilitators of terrorists then it means that their traces remain here. We need to repatriate the Afghan refugees. The facilitators of terrorists usually change their bandwagon and join other groups. It doesn’t mean that one group has become operational in Pakistan.
Q5) How will the Rapid Reaction Force between Iran and Pakistan work?
You cannot equate the Pak-Afghan border with the Pak-Iran border. Our border with Iran is friendly. There is no security presence along the 909-kilometre border. Through bilateral coordination, we are putting in a mechanism where there were will posts along the border. We have good coordination with Iran. There are no major issues between the two countries.
Q6) We will need a lot of money for the mainstreaming of the madrassahs. We have many economic constraints. Where do we plan to get this money from?
I am not the right person to answer this question.